Capcom has a good track record of avoiding the sophomore slump. Mega Man 2 and Street Fighter 2 defined entire eras of game design, and even B-list follow-ups like Strider 2 and Power Stone 2 managed to improve on predecessors that were known but not widely played. The company has had some peculiar misses, though. On paper, DuckTales 2 is superior to its predecessor—more stages, tweaked jumping, a wider variety of challenges—but it feels like so much less. There are those games that Capcom got just right the first time out, and while they’re simpler than their successors, they benefit from their clarity. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, though a good game, falls into this category. The first proper sequel to an NES game from 1988 is laid low by underdeveloped ideas and finicky controls.
Rearmed 2 is, more specifically, a sequel to the 2008 remake of the NES Bionic Commando. Made by defunct studio Grin, Bionic Commando Rearmed is one of the better remakes in gaming history, a game that perfectly recreates the original’s physics and play while simultaneously excising its less-functional parts and improving on old ideas. Levels were largely intact but polished to a fine sheen, while boss fights were completely re-imagined and Nathan “Radd” Spencer’s arsenal was fleshed out. Most importantly, the original’s central play—using a grappling hook with rigidly defined physics—is kept perfectly intact. Rearmed 2, created by numerous Grin expats at studio Fatshark, has relaxed the rules for using the grappling hook and even lets you jump while navigating the game’s vast two-dimensional stages. The stages are excellent, for the most part: towns, construction sites, mountains, and jungles convincingly filled with precarious platforms. The ability to jump also doesn’t come at the expense of the game’s central conceit—navigating with Radd’s bionic arm is still the game’s raison d’être.
Strange that the relaxed hook physics, not the newly added jumping, is the game’s biggest problem. The reason the 1988 game has stayed engaging for a quarter of a century is its demand for and rewarding of precision. In its attempt to broaden the game’s appeal, Fatshark ended up making it feel clumsy. The hook fires too quickly, detaches too readily from platforms, and sometimes fails to connect with the environment. Most games can overcome control problems, but in the case of Bionic Commando, where the central premise of the game lives and dies by exact control, a poor interface brings down the whole production.
There are other issues. The game introduces new features, like the ability to scan the environment à la recent Metroid games, in addition to a plethora of new secondary upgradeable abilities, like a mêlée attack and a force shield. Unfortunately, scanning is never used in any meaningful way, and the majority of new secondary skills are useless on the game’s normal difficulty. One successful addition, however, is Radd Spencer’s new Wade Boggs mustache.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is by no means a bad game, merely an okay one. Fatshark should have the opportunity to learn that what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing.